Just like in humans, pet obesity is at an all-time rise. Over 58% of cats and dogs in the United States alone are considered overweight or severely obese. The causes of pets becoming overweight can be many varying reasons, dependent on the lifestyle of the pet and their owner, their environments, and of course, their diet and exercise routines (or lack of). In dogs, it can be relatively easy to start a weight loss program, but with cats, it can be a little more of a challenge. Very rarely can you just put your cat on a harness and take them for a regular walk around the block to shed a few pounds! Let’s discuss several tips and tricks on how to help your “fluffy” cat lose some weight. By the end of this article, you will be able to participate in a successful weight loss plan for your cat!
First, get a professional opinion on your cat’s health
It is essential to get an expert opinion from a veterinarian before putting your kitty on a diet. It is especially true If you have already been trying to help your cat lose weight and you do not see any progress. There may be some underlying medical reasons why your cat may not be shedding pounds, and if not addressed, you may not see any weight loss.
Once your veterinarian has examined your cat, you can discuss a healthy weight goal for kitty. Once there is a goal established for kitty’s desired weight, we can then move to a weight loss plan. Like with humans, diet and exercise/regular activity will go hand in hand to make sure we see some success with kitty’s weight loss. Doing just dieting, or just exercise, may work for a little bit, but ultimately diet and exercise balance each other out and will produce effective, long term results for kitty. Let’s discuss proper diet and nutrition first.
What are we feeding?
- When we discuss dieting for your kitty, we are not just talking about reducing the amount of food that your cat eats. It is essential to assess the food that you are feeding your cat to ensure it has appropriate nutritional value for kitty’s life stage and that it has high-quality ingredients in the diet.
- Feeding an adult cat food labeled for “kittens” or “seniors” could impact their overall health. Kitten foods tend to have more calories as kittens will be continuously growing. Senior diets tend to have lower calories and sometimes more fiber in them, as older cats tend to be less active than adult cats.
- Assess what food your cat is currently on, and if you have any questions, reach out to your veterinarian.
- If you or your veterinarian need to transition your cat to a new food, ensure that you transition the diet slowly over a week so that your cat doesn’t get stomach upset or diarrhea from the sudden change.
Controlled, measured feedings; How much to feed?
Once we have determined kitty is on an appropriate diet for their age and nutritional needs, then we need to calculate how much food your cat needs to eat daily.
- Your veterinarian may have given you a specific number of calories (called Kcals for pets) to feed daily. If you have that information, look at your cat’s food to determine how much calories per serving, and that will help direct you on how much to feed your cat.
- If your veterinarian did not specifically break down how many that your cat needs to eat daily, then we can look at your cats’ bag of food and determine the feeding instructions based on the weight of your cat. Interpreting this is where a lot of people make mistakes. You want to feed the amount of food targeted for your cat’s DESIRED weight, not their current weight. For example, if your cat currently is 13 pounds, but the goal weight loss will be to get them to 9 pounds, you will feed the amount of food recommended for a 9-pound cat.
- Also, consider how many treats you give your cat daily and ensure you have calculated the number of calories per treat to add that into the daily total.
- If you regularly give your cat treats, consider switching to vegetables such as carrots, green beans, cucumbers, or zucchini, as they are very low calorie and can be filling. For more treat ideas, check out my article on Healthy Treat Solutions for Overweight Pets.
When and how to feed?
When you should feed your cat depends on your routine. If you usually just leave your cat’s food bowl down all day for kitty to munch on, simply fill it once daily. If your cat has an automatic feeder, this may be a hard transition for them as they are probably used to their bowl being down for them all day long. Expect some protesting from your cat until they are used to their new feeding schedule.
The key to success is not giving in to any begging and whining for more food. Instead, redirect your cat’s behavior to play! Giving your cat love and attention is a great distraction and usually a very acceptable substitute for giving kitty more food. Plus, by engaging your cat into playing, your helping your cat get active, which will help them burn calories.
Gorging and vomiting
If you find that your cat tends to eat all their food at once and then vomit it back up, you may need to feed small portions several times a day. You can feed half their meal in the morning and another half in the evening. If you have an inconsistent work schedule or one that does not permit you to feed your cat multiple times a day, consider investing in an automated feeder. You can program the feeder to supply the desired amounts as often as you prefer.
I purchased this Petsafe Automated Feeder from Amazon. This feeder connects to your home wifi network, and you can change the settings or feeding details from your smartphone. It can send you alerts when your pet gets fed a meal, or if there was a problem with the feeder. If you are worried about the expense of an automated feeder, there are ones as inexpensive as $24.99. It all depends on the features you desire from the feeder!
For cats that live by a combination of indoors and outdoors, consider what food sources they may have access to outside. If your cat roams the neighborhood, there could be a chance that they could be scoring a treat or meal from someone in the area.
Multiple cat households
In households with multiple cats, owners typically allow the cats to share one bowl of food, and they simply make sure to keep the bowl full. While this is a very convenient solution, owners may never know how much food each cat is eating. Sometimes, having multiple cats that share the same food bowl can create behavioral problems such as food guarding, where some cats may not allow others to eat. Other times, because the cats share the same food bowl, owners miss out on recognizing early signs of health problems because they are not familiar with each cat’s eating habits.
Furthermore, feeding on the same bowl can lead to one of the cats becoming overweight, and the other cat lacking proper daily nutrition. Veterinarians often recommend that each cat eats from a separate bowl to monitor their nutritional habits and dietary intake. Separately feeding each cat can be done in several ways:
- Owners can feed each cat in a separate location. However, by feeding in different areas, owners will have to make sure the food is inaccessible to the other cats in the household.
- If all the food bowls are in one location, owners can get food bowls that limit access to only one specific cat. There are many food bowls available that will close after a period or remain closed until a cat approaches the bowl and triggers it to open. For an example of this, check out this Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder from Amazon.
If you share your house with other people: discuss changing the culture at home.
Pet owners need to ensure that everyone in the household is aware of the changes implemented with kitty’s diet. Sometimes, a cat can be on a diet for months with little weight loss. In homes with more than one person living with the cat, both owners can be overfeeding the cat. This can happen by giving too many treats, feeding people food, or even feeding the cat an additional meal because the cat was annoying them. Make sure to have a continuous conversation with everyone at home to ensure kitty’s diet is respected and progress is happening.
The “exercise” plan: keep kitty moving
As we already discussed, weight loss in cats is not just about restricting what they eat. Keeping your cat active will also make a big difference in losing weight. Here are some ideas to get kitty to “exercise” more daily:
- If your kitty is a snacker, make them hunt for their food. Hunting for treats encourages them to be more active as they will be up and moving around the house looking for a treat. Take a portion of their daily meal and hide it around the house or utilize food puzzles. A “food puzzle” is a toy intended to get your cat to do some sort of activity before the item releases the food to them. Examples of food puzzles are treat dispensing balls. Many different food puzzles work great for cats, and they are inexpensive!
- Have interactive toys available for your cat. There are many motion-activated cat toys available now that encourage cats to jump, chase, and catch them.
- Reserve a few minutes a day playing with your cat and their favorite toy. This will not only strengthen your bond with your cat, but it will get them moving! If you are not sure what your cat likes to play with, experiment a little. Some cats are just like dogs and will fetch a ball! Others prefer to chase items like a string or feather. Get to know your kitty and what toys they like to play with.
- When playing with your cat, encourage them to jump on to safe places, go up the stairs, or run across the room. If you have kids at home, help them to build an obstacle course, and teach your cat how to go through it.
- Walk your cat. Yes, you read correctly, you can walk a cat! With training, you could teach cats to walk on harnesses! While they may not be easy to train to go for a walk around the block, you can at least take your cat outside on a harness and have them explore a new environment.
Finally; following through and tracking progress
The last step in a weight loss plan for your cat is to be continually monitoring your cat’s progress.
- When your cat needs to be actively losing weight, make sure to weigh them once weekly to see if any changes are happening.
- Make a chart to track their progress. Charting the weekly weight will hold you accountable and help you keep track of how quickly (or slowly) your cat is losing weight.
- Talk with your veterinarian if you do not see any results.
- Once your cat has reached their target weight, continue to maintain their new weight.
Most importantly, once you help your cat reach their targeted weight, reflect on the journey. Think about the change in routine with feeding and exercise and the improvements made. Think about what you have learned along the way, and create a goal moving forward to ensure your cat continues to have the new lifestyle you created. Many pets can gain weight back quickly if their owner reverts to old habits.
A new lifestyle
With the new lifestyle you have created for your cat, you will likely see some activity and even personality changes in your cat. Your cat may now be more active, friendly, or playful as they have more energy and feel better about moving around. Keep the success going by continuing to build that ongoing relationship and healthy eating habits with your cat.
Good luck with your cat’s weight loss journey! It IS possible to make it happen!